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Land Use and Development

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The total land area of Wiltshire is 3255 km2 and Swindon Borough is 230 km2, giving a total of 3485 km2. Land is used in Wiltshire and Swindon in a number of different ways and there is overlap between different land uses. For example, Salisbury Plain can be classified as military land but much of it is also used as agricultural land and/or is designated for its nature conservation value.

The approximate areas of major land uses are given in the attached table with some important notes explaining how these figures have been determined.

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Land Use by Administrative Area/Former District
Land Use by Administrative Area/Former District
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Land Use in Wiltshire & Swindon Compared to South West and England
Land Use in Wiltshire & Swindon Compared to South West and England

Source: Office of National Statistics, Land Use Statistics (Generalised Land Use Database), 2005 © Crown Copyright

Generalised Land Use Database statistics at a local level are available online at: http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/

Figures for the total area of land allocated to new housing are not available.  Strategic sites for housing cover 1,959 hectares in Swindon Borough (for about 60% of planned new homes) and 312 hectares in Wiltshire (for around 33% of planned new homes).  A further 521 hectares have been permitted in Wiltshire for sites with 10 or more homes.  Since 1996, 51.5% of Wiltshire’s new housing has on previously developed (brownfield) sites and 48.5% on greenfield sites; in Swindon Borough this split is 40% brownfield and 60% greenfield.  From 2013 – 2026, Wiltshire Council estimates that 28% of new homes will be on brownfield sites and 72% on greenfield sites. 

Between 2006 – 2026, the area of land planned for industrial and commercial sites is 323 hectares in Wiltshire and 120 hectares in Swindon Borough.

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Long Term Vacant Dwellings 2004-2012
Long Term Vacant Dwellings 2004-2012

In 2012, there were almost 1600 empty homes in Wiltshire and more than 500 in Swindon.  Bringing empty properties back into use can reduce the need for new development and lessen its environmental impact; 681 properties were returned to use in Wiltshire between April and October 2012. 

Transport infrastructure is another major consumer of land, energy and materials (eg. for road-building and vehicle production) and transport is a primary source of air pollution and carbon emissions. Motor vehicle traffic has increased steadily in recent decades, but declined slightly in the last five years. In Swindon Borough, vehicle miles peaked in 2008 at 731 million miles, having increased by 31% since 1993. In Wiltshire vehicle miles peaked in 2007 at 2,342 million miles, an increase of 25% since 1993.

In Wiltshire roads take up 36% more land than buildings, while in Swindon Borough there is no difference between them, although the percentage of total land area taken up by roads is 3.9% - much higher than the England average of 2.2%. The proportion of households with access to two or more vehicles rose from 40% in 2001 to 44% in 2011 in Wiltshire, and from 31.8% to 34.2% in Swindon Borough.

Source: Department of Transport 2012, Department of Communities and Local Government 2012

All agricultural land across the country has been classified by Defra, and assigned a grade between one and five. These are based on the quality of the land, and the limitations to growing arable crops.

The proportion of high quality agricultural land (grades 1 and 2) is roughly equivalent in Wiltshire and England. The proportion of Grade 3 is significantly higher in Wiltshire, and the county also contains significantly less poor quality land (grades 4 and 5). The classification of Salisbury Plain as non-agricultural land (despite the fact that most of the land is used for grazing and other agricultural purposes) means that this category is far higher in Wiltshire than the England average. Swindon Borough has a higher proportion of grade 2 and 3 land than the England average, but less grade 1 land.

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Area of Agricultural Grades in Wiltshire & Swindon
Area of Agricultural Grades in Wiltshire & Swindon
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Agricultural Land Classification in Wiltshire & Swindon
Agricultural Land Classification in Wiltshire & Swindon

© Natural England 2011

© Crown Copyright

The total farmed area in 2010 was 130.85km2 in Swindon and 2604.70 km2 in Wiltshire, giving a total of 2735.55 km2, according to the Defra June Survey.  This is close to the Utilisable Agricultural Area (UAA) figure of 2720 km2 calculated by Natural England.

The largest proportion – almost half – of Wiltshire’s agricultural land is used as grassland for grazing cattle and sheep, followed by cereals and other arable crops, with less than 1% used for fruit and vegetables. Swindon Borough’s farmland use follows roughly the same pattern, although with less grassland and more arable use.

Poultry is the most numerous type of livestock farmed in Wiltshire (89%), with much smaller proportions of cattle, sheep and pigs. However, poultry farming involves much less land per animal. In Swindon, more than 50% of livestock are cattle, followed by sheep, poultry and pigs in that order. Data was not found on horses and associated land use.

There is a relatively even split in the number of farm holdings of different sizes in both Swindon and Wiltshire.  However, over 82% of Wiltshire’s farmland and 79% of Swindon’s farmland is farmed in holdings of 100 hectares or more. Only 2.5% of Wiltshire’s farmland is farmed in holdings of 20 hectares or less.

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Farmed Area in Wiltshire & Swindon
Farmed Area in Wiltshire & Swindon
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Number of Holdings by Size of Holding
Number of Holdings by Size of Holding
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Livestock in Wiltshire & Swindon
Livestock in Wiltshire & Swindon
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Farmed Area by Size of Holding
Farmed Area by Size of Holding
Environmental stewardship schemes are awarded by Defra. These are agri-environment schemes based on the level of environmental management provided by the farmers and land managers. They recognize organic land separately. Environmental stewardship schemes provide an important incentive to manage agricultural land in an environmentally conscious way. When implemented properly, they increase the habitat and ecological quality of farmland, and as this covers the majority of Wiltshire, is of vital importance to the counties overall environmental quality.

Two thirds of agricultural land in Wiltshire and Swindon is covered by 974 environmental stewardship agreements, including Entry Level, Higher Level and Organic Stewardship. Over half of this is covered by Entry Level Stewardship agreements which have basic standards for farmers to meet. However, there is also a significant area of organic and higher level stewardship agreements.  Maps showing land within environmental stewardship agreements in each of Wiltshire's Community Areas are available in the maps section of this site.

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Environmental Stewardship Agreement
Environmental Stewardship Agreements In Wiltshire & Swindon

Source: Natural England

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) have been designated by Natural England as areas considered as having significant landscape value. Three are found in Wiltshire and Swindon, although each extends significantly beyond the borders of the county. A small part of the New Forest National Park is also within southeast Wiltshire.  A map showing land within AONBs and National Park in each of Wiltshire's Community Areas is available below and in the maps section of this site. 

AONBs are considered to be landscapes with distinctive character and natural beauty. They are afforded certain protections under the law, particularly in relation to planning consent and development. They are managed by local partnerships led by local authorities. A National Park has the same legal protections but is managed by its own National Park Authority.

The table below shows that Wiltshire has a much higher percentage of land covered by AONBs (43%) than either the South West (30%) or England (16%). However, it is worth noting that AONBs do not explicitly denote areas of high nature conservation value, and say nothing about the current quality of the landscape.

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Area of AONBs and National Park in Wiltshire and Swindon
Area of AONBs and National Park in Wiltshire and Swindon
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AONBsNationalParkMapWiltshireSwindon
Map of AONBs and National Park in Wiltshire's Community Areas and Swindon Borough

Links to further information:

Both Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Council have produced landscape character assessments (LCAs) covering their areas. These are used to inform planning policy and other decisions. LCAs have also been published for the three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) within Wiltshire and Swindon.

Swindon Borough Council produced Supplementary Planning Guidance on Landscape Character Areas in 2004 which was used in the preparation of the Swindon Borough Local Plan 2011.

In December 2005, Wiltshire County Council published a detailed Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) of the whole of Wiltshire and there have been assessments of specific areas (link below). The Wiltshire LCA concluded that “around a third of the landscape of the county is in moderate condition with none in poor condition. Most of chalk uplands of the south of the county, and the limestone areas to the north west are in good condition. The chalk downs that dominate the county are considered strong in character along with the greensand hills and limestone valleys, while the less distinctive clay and limestone lowlands and greensand terraces are moderate in strength of character. Again there are no landscape types considered to be of weak character” (Chapter 11, page 155).

Sources and further information:

Swindon Borough Council page on Supplementary Planning Guidance: http://www.swindon.gov.uk/ep/ep-planning/forwardplaning/ep-planning-localdev/Pages/ep-planning-spg.aspx

Wiltshire Council Landscape Character webpages: http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/planninganddevelopment/planningpolicy/landscapeconservation/wiltshireslandscape.htm

Cotswolds AONB LCA: http://www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/landscape_character_assessment/index.htm

Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB LCA: http://www.ccwwdaonb.org.uk/outstanding/character_landscape.htm

North Wessex Downs AONB LCA:http://www.northwessexdowns.org.uk/projects/landscape-character.html

Eleven National Character Areas fall within Wiltshire and Swindon; these are:

  • Cotswolds (107)

  • Upper Thames Clay Vales (108)

  • Midvale Ridge (109)

  • Berkshire and Marlborough Downs (116)

  • Avon Vales (117)

  • Thames Basin Heaths (129)

  • Hampshire Downs (130)

  • New Forest (131)

  • Salisbury Plain and West Wiltshire Downs (132)

  • Blackmoor Vale and Vale of Wardour (133)

  • Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase (134)

New full profiles of each area are being published by April 2014 on Natural England’s website: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/publications/nca/default.aspx?

National Character Areas were identified in 2005 to help describe and understand distinct areas which share significant characteristics, such as habitat types, building practices, landscape type and geology. National Character Areas are a widely recognised national framework, used for a range of applications and decision-making. Examples include the targeting of Natural England's agri-environment schemes and planning decisions by local authorities.  

A national project called Countryside Quality Counts assessed change in the English countryside from 1990 to 1998 and from 1999 to 2003. In the second assessment a headline indicator was given to each National Character Area as shown in the table.

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Assessment of National Character Areas in Wiltshire & Swindon
Assessment of National Character Areas in Wiltshire & Swindon

Areas of countryside around urban areas have been designated as Green Belt to protect the countryside from urban sprawl and to retain the character of towns and cities. The boundaries of Green Belts are determined by local authorities and kept up to date and publicly available in local plans.

Wiltshire has designated 6,910 hectares of Green Belt land as part of the Western Wiltshire Green Belt. The Wiltshire Core Strategy Pre-Submission Document February 2012 states that “The purpose of the Green Belt is to check the expansion of towns in the area, principally Bristol and Bath, and to safeguard surrounding countryside, and its particular objectives are to: maintain the open character of undeveloped land adjacent to Bath, Trowbridge and Bradford on Avon; prevent the coalescence of Bradford on Avon with Trowbridge or the villages to the east of Bath; limit the spread of development along the A4 between Batheaston and Corsham; and protect the setting and historic character of Bradford on Avon.” (page 195).

There is no Green Belt land in Swindon Borough. 

Sources of further information:

Green Belt statistics: Communities and Local Government Local Planning Authority Green Belt Statistics: England 2010-11, Department for Communities and Local Government © Crown Copyright, 2011: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/corporate/statistics/lagreenbelt2010

Wiltshire Core Strategy Pre-Submission Document, February 2012

Wiltshire’s landscape and land uses are shaped by the underlying geological characteristics of the land.  Below is a geological map of Wiltshire (copyright Isobel Geddes).  

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Wiltshire Geology Map
Wiltshire Geology Map

The following is a summary of Wiltshire’s geology from the Wiltshire Geology Group website:

The surface geology of Wiltshire follows relatively simple lines. The former cover of Chalk and earlier Cretaceous rocks has been removed by erosion in the basin of the Wiltshire Avon, leaving a prominent scarp trending generally NE/SW across the centre of the County.

To the north west, the Jurassic rocks crop out in succession, dipping south eastwards under the Chalk.

To the south east, the Cretaceous rocks form the high ground of the Marlborough Downs and Salisbury plain. In the south east corner there are some small outcrops of Tertiary rocks at the extreme edge of the Hampshire Basin.

Two major vales finger into the Chalk outcrop, the Vale of Pewsey, floored by Lower Cretaceous rocks, and the Vale of Wardour, which cuts down as far as the Upper Jurassic rocks.

Sources of further information:

Wiltshire Geology Group http://www.wiltshiregeologygroup.org.uk

British Geological Survey (BGS) free web service allowing the viewing of high-resolution geological maps, photographs and other geoscience information which can be used freely for non-commercial activities: www.bgs.ac.uk/OpenGeoscience

BGS Digital Geological Map of Great Britain at up to a 1:50,000 scale for free viewing at: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/discoveringGeology/geologyOfBritain/viewer.html

Local geological sites are designated by local authorities and have the same status as local wildlife sites. They have no legal protection but are assessed as being of local importance and are taken into account in planning policy and other decisions. They are designed to complement nationally and internationally designated geological and wildlife sites. They were previously referred to as regionally important geological sites (RIGS).

As of April 2012, there were 58 local geological sites in Wiltshire and 2 sites in Swindon Borough (Coate Water and Highworth Town Centre). Most of the sites are relatively small and they cover a total area of 1.74 km². Many of the sites are areas where the earth is exposed, such disused quarries, mines and pits, and banks, cuttings and cliffs. The attached document gives details of each site; further information is available from WSBRC or the Wiltshire Geology Group (see below).

Twenty-four of the sites have full public access (including both Swindon Borough sites) while 24 have conditional access and 12 have uncertain access (e.g. on privately-owned land).

Wiltshire Geology Group monitors the condition of local geological sites. In a survey in 2009-10, they found that 17 sites were in ‘good’ condition, 2 were ‘good steady’, 27 were ‘good declining’, 10 were ‘poor declining’ and four were ‘poor declining or lost’.

Copyright and sources of further information:

© WSBRC 2011 www.wsbrc.org.uk – Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre holds detailed records of local geological sites.

Wiltshire Geology Group: http://www.wiltshiregeologygroup.org.uk

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are areas that are designated because they are of special interest based on their flora, fauna, geology or other landscape features.

While most SSSIs are designated for their wildlife interest, twenty-two sites in Wiltshire and three in Swindon Borough are designated for their geological interest. Two of these sites – Chilmark Quarries and Fyfield Down – are designated for both wildlife and geological interest. Natural England reports that thirteen of these 25 are in ‘favourable’ condition, five are in ‘unfavourable recovering’ condition, five are in mixed condition and two are in ‘unfavourable declining’ condition.

Despite the designation, the access and ownership of these areas is no different than any other area of the countryside. However, they are extended legal protection from development, damage and neglect.

Details of individual SSSIs can be found on the Natural England website: http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk

See also: link to SSSIs page under Wildlife/Wildlife Sites.

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